Ungracious Living: Package of Lies
DARMIN T. SNOW
I weep for women who judge their appearance by magazine ads for cosmetics and such, for the women the ads portray bear no more resemblance to reality than the female forms of DC comics and hentai. Often, it is said, they're composites of several women, and what's more, every bulge and blemish has been brushed, cloning-stamped, and filtered out in Photoshop.
A similar number is done on packaged food. It's almost common knowledge that in photographs of breakfast cereal, Elmer's glue is substituted for milk. That's innocent enough, because milk doesn't photograph well. It has a bluish hue in pictures. Arguably, using Elmer's in its place is an attempt to portray something closer to reality.
But some efforts to make food look appetizing are plain lies, and nowhere is this more apparent than in frozen food packaging. All too often I take my meals from the deli freezer case at 12 a.m., and I am stunned by the disparity between the picture on the box and what comes out of the microwave.
First, let's look at one of the staples of my diet: the soy patty, also known as the veggie burger. I eat at least two dozen of these things a week, for the sake of convenience. They're food units, which one who lives ungraciously can appreciate. Microwave for two minutes, stick it in a bun, and eat. In less than ten minutes you're back at your computer.
My favorite brand is Morningstar Farms, although Bocca makes some tasty "chic'n patties," which taste better than real chicken, and meatless Italian sausage, which is nearly as good as the lips-and-assholes variety. Gardenburger has introduced some exciting new items, such as soy barbecue ribs. Now, I am no connoisseur of ribs, but one could easily have fooled me into thinking they were actual pork ribs. Such is the wonder of food science.
I've chosen to portray here my old stand-by, the Morningstar Farms Harvest Burger. The box shows it resting on a pillow of healthy green lettuce and a toasted sesame bun, garnished with catsup and diced onions. Obviously, the burger itself has been lacquered to give it a juicy sheen, but in my opinion it looks pretty okay when it comes out of the microwave, steamy and gray like a White Castle slider.
The main difference between their burger and mine is the choice of condiment. I like mustard--a lot. I don't pretend my Harvest Burger is a real ground-beef patty, and gussy it up like I would a hamburger. I just glop on yellow mustard: one layer between the bun and top patty, a squirt between the patties, and another for good measure on the bottom bun.
Next, I compared Amy's frozen enchilada to the Platonic form shown on the box. Although it's organic and vegan, I would put in the same category of cuisine as a burrito I once bought from a truck stop on a lonely Arizona highway, along with a Dr. Hook tape--only Amy's is not quite as sickening as either of those.
As Seen on TV
I also tried some of the big-name frozen foods, for the sake of fairness to the boutique brands. Honestly, I don't eat that stuff. There's a difference between living ungraciously and being gross. Gutter punks do not live ungraciously; they're just nasty. Likewise, it's one thing to eat out of your corner deli's freezer, and quite another to eat Hot Pockets out of that freezer.
I was thoroughly disgusted by the Ham 'n Cheese Hot Pocket, which tasted like a giant Combo, only filled with liquid cheese product, whereas Combos contain a cheese-product paste. And the picture on the box, as you can see, is as fraudulent as can be. In fact, I'm surprised the FTC has not taken action against ChefAmerica, Inc., the manufacturer of Hot Pockets. The FTC defines deceptive advertising as "a representation, omission or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer," which would be considered "material" were said deception to cause the consumer harm. I maintain that my Hot Pocket experience was ghastly enough to constitute materiality.
Swanson's roast beef and gravy was slightly better. At least it hinted at something made in a kitchen, rather than by injection molding. Of the three bologna-thin slices of beef, however, one was mostly gristle.
My advice is, when choosing a frozen meal, you can't go wrong with faux-meat soy products. Zapped, pan-fried, or oven-baked, they taste good; they're healthy, and they never leave you feeling queasy.